Venice tourist attractions

Top Venice sights

Venice is home to many superlatives. It lands itself as the most romantic, the most beautiful and the most impressive Italian city.

  1. Head to the area of Saint Mark
  2. Discover the beauty of Saint Mark’s Basilica
  3. Marvel at art in the Galleria dell’Accademia
  4. Discover contemporary art
  5. Wander over the Rialto Bridge
  6. See the incredible Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Venice’s cultural heritage is a source of endless fascination, but you should also allow time just to wander - the anonymous parts of the city reveal as much of the city’s essence as the highlighted attractions.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Head to the area of Saint Mark

The section of Venice enclosed by the lower loop of the Canal Grande is, in essence, the Venice of the travel brochures. The plush hotels are concentrated here, in the sestiere of Saint Mark, as are the swankier shops and the best-known cultural attractions of the city. Less genteel phrases might seem appropriate on a suffocating summer afternoon, but the Piazza has been congested for centuries. Its parades, festivities and markets have always drawn visitors, the biggest attraction being the trade fair known as the Fiera della Sensa. Nowadays the Piazza is the focal point of the Carnevale shenanigans. The coffee shops of the Piazza were a vital component of eighteenth-century high society, and the square’s three historic cafés - Florian, Quadri and Lavena - are still the most expensive in town.

Best for: An introduction to Venice

While you’re there: Note that the Piazza San Marco is the only piazza in Venice, all the other squares are campi or campielli.

2. Discover the beauty of Saint Mark’s Basilica

The Saint Mark’s Basilica is the most exotic of Europe’s cathedrals, and no visitor can remain dispassionate when confronted by it. Of the exterior features, the Romanesque carvings of the central door demand the closest attention. The carvings were begun around 1225 and finished in the early fourteenth century. A steep staircase goes from the church’s main door up to the San Marco Museum and the Loggia dei Cavalli. Apart from giving you an all-round view, the loggia is also the best place from which to inspect the Gothic carvings along the apex of the facade. With its undulating floor of twelfth-century patterned marble, its plates of eastern stone on the lower walls and its four thousand square metres of mosaics covering every other centimetre of wall and vaulting, the interior of San Marco is the most opulent of any cathedral. This is certainly the best of all Venice attractions.

Best for: Venice sightseeing at its very best

While you’re there: Don’t forget to have a peek at the treasury and the sanctuary, home to even more attractions.

3. Marvel at art in the Galleria dell’Accademia

The Galleria dell’Accademia is one of the finest specialist collections of European art. It follows the history of Venetian painting from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. With San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, it completes the triad of obligatory tourist sights in Venice. Admissions are restricted to batches of three hundred people at a time, so queues can be huge in high season. The Accademia has been expanded to create ground-floor galleries for some three hundred paintings that were previously in storage. The upper floor focuses on art up to the seventeenth century, with the lower galleries being devoted mainly to later artists. If you’re looking for masterpieces, this is one of the best Venice tourist attractions.

Best for: Art

While you’re there: Don’t miss the one-off exhibitions of modern and contemporary art which are also held in the new rooms.

4. Discover contemporary art

The Punta della Dogana exhibition space is another great spot. It has been beautifully renovated to designs by Tadao Ando, and is unquestionably one of the world’s great showcases for contemporary art. The entry charge is savage, but well over one hundred works from Pinault’s collection are usually on display here at any one time. You can expect to see pieces by the likes of Cindy Sherman, Luc Tuymans, Thomas Schütte, Jeff Koons and Marlene Dumas. If you’re looking for Venice holidays, note that most of Italy shuts down in August.

Best for: Contemporary art

While you’re there: Ocean Space is a top spot for contemporary art. Find art installations around the subject of the environment.

5. Wander over the Rialto Bridge

The famous Rialto Bridge shows what one of the old drawbridges looked like. The decision to construct a stone bridge was taken in 1524, and the job was awarded to the aptly named Antonio da Ponte. Until 1854, when the first Accademia Bridge was built, this was the only point at which the Canal Grande could be crossed on foot.

Best for: A wonderful stroll

While you’re there: Today’s Rialto market may be a lot tamer than that of Venice at its peak, but it’s still one of the liveliest spots in the city.

6. See the incredible Scuola Grande di San Rocco

A place you should on no account miss is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. St Rocco (St Roch) was attributed with the power to cure the plague and other serious illnesses, so when the saint’s body was brought to Venice in 1485, this scuola began to profit from donations from people wishing to invoke his aid. In 1515 it commissioned this prestigious building, and soon after its completion in 1560, work began on the decorative scheme that was to put the Scuola’s rivals in the shade - a cycle of more than fifty major paintings by Tintoretto.

Best for: A unique Venetian landmark

While you’re there: Another must-see sight is the Marciana Library - it’s simply incredible.

Find your perfect destination